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American Kids Are 'Old Enough' for Errands, Too!

Lenore Skenazy on

Two years and nine months. That's the age of the first child we watch going on an errand by himself in the new Netflix series, "Old Enough!"

How can someone that young possibly walk half a mile alongside a highway, cross a big street and navigate a supermarket?

Simple. He lives in Japan. In that country, parents proudly let their kids walk to school and even ride the subway solo by first grade. "Old Enough!" pushes the age down further for dramatic effect, but that's what makes it so cute -- and so crucial for Americans to see.

I won't make this all about me, but 14 years ago I wrote a column titled, "Why I Let My 9-Year-Old Ride the Subway Alone." It got me slammed. In America, it's a scandal and sometimes even a crime to let your kids do anything alone before they hit double digits. But in Japan?

Well, consider Hiroki, the boy in the first "Old Enough!" episode. His job is to get fishcakes, curry and some flowers for his grandma's altar.

At first, he looks a little daunted. But by golly, he gets to the grocery, finds the fishcakes and even asks a clerk to help him find the flowers. (Can your child -- perhaps in college -- do that?)

 

Outside, he remembers, "I forgot the curry!" and goes back in to buy it.

Then he heads home, filmed by a camera crew adept at hiding in the bushes.

Now, contrast this with current American norms. An American Academy of Pediatrics white paper states that "children should not be unsupervised pedestrians before 10 years of age, except in limited situations." How come? "Normal developmental characteristics, such as magical thinking, egocentricity, distractibility, and impulsivity, increase pedestrian risk for children."

What about the normal developmental characteristics we see on "Old Enough!" -- tenacity, helpfulness, bravery and purpose? In America, we see children only through the lens of vulnerability -- all the ways they could screw up or get hurt.

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Copyright 2022 Creators Syndicate, Inc.
 

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